Bloomsday at 100

Two reflections on James Joyce's legacy

Bloomsday, June 16, 1904, is the day anatomized, commemorated, and celebrated in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Striking testimony to the enduring power of Ulysses is that we mark not the birth of its author or the publication of the book but the imagined day of the fiction. Ulysses has inspired a holiday to rival St. Patrick’s Day. Joyce’s vision of Dublin on June 16, 1904, is so compelling that it has entered our consciousness, become part of what we feel and know, remember, and imagine.

Once banned, often excoriated, still dauntingly difficult, Ulysses has become the canonical twentieth-century novel. Readers continue to be exhilarated, nettled, and perplexed by it. Fundamentally paradoxical-a comic epic, antic and grave, mordant and heartbreaking-Ulysses is an encyclopedia of modernism and a gospel of postmodernism.

Yet Ulysses features the traditional qualities of fiction, intriguing characters confronting and creating their fates in a lifelike time and place. We come to know intimately Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom, their thinking and feeling, suffering and longing.

Joyce’s characters live in a vividly rendered world. Dublin on June 16, 1904, pulses with life: the sights and sounds, the smells and textures of the city. Newspapers, horse races, trams, power outages, a procession,...

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About the Author

Robert H. Bell is Kenan Professor of English and founding director of the Project for Effective Teaching at Williams College. He is the author of Jocoserious Joyce: The Fate of Folly in 'Ulysses' and, with William C. Dowling, A Reader's Companion to 'Infinite Jest'.